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Kill the Bunny! Notes on Porno Culture July 13, 2005

Posted by Winter in media, pornography.
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A few months ago, I underwent something of a rite of passage, my very first “Mary Whitehouse moment.” Watching television at my sister’s house, around 11.00am on a Saturday morning, I suddenly found myself being subjected to Christina Aguilera’s video for her aptly named song “Dirty.” Well! I can’t remember the exact phrase which crossed my mind, but I have to confess it was something along the lines of “Won’t you think of the children!” This was immediately followed by moderate panic about my entrance into a state of prudery. I was just about the throw it all in, run off to join Christian Voice and begin campaigning against the Jerry Springer Opera, when I paused for thought and decided that I didn’t have to be Mary Whitehouse to feel uncomfortable with Christina’s gyrating pseudo-orgiastic music video. The fact of the matter is that I don’t want to live in a world in which children are brainwashed with soft-core pornographic imagery; actually, I don’t like being constantly subjected to such imagery myself, and I don’t have to feel apologetic for my discomfort. The kind of stuff currently being churned out under the banner of sexual liberation and girl power is neither liberating nor empowering.

Let me make it clear, I do not think exposure to sexual material per see damages children. I am not talking about any old piece of erotic art here. Actually, I think we need more erotic art created by women and for women. We need open, honest sex education for girls, female-centered education that teaches them to own, respect, enjoy and celebrate their bodies and their desires, but on their own terms. What I am objecting to is the ever-increasing saturation of popular culture with imagery and material drawn directly from pornography made specifically for adult heterosexual men. Although few female pop artists, actresses, or T.V presenters, allow us to see them actually engaged in real-time sex, (some do), they often use, ape, and mime postures and images pulled from such pornography. It’s easy to recognize. We encounter them draped across the covers of FHM or Loaded, hair flicked everywhere, pumped up breasts, coy facial expression, wet-lipped mouth pursed in the promise of a blow job, legs akimbo. I saw Charlotte Church on one this morning, resplendent in a basque and suspenders. They just love getting these ex-child stars in and sexing them up. It is no surprise to me that artists such as Aguilera and Britney Spears are marketed predominantly to two groups; namely, men and young girls. There is a sinister link, for in pandering to male fantasies, such artists also do plenty of work teaching young girls about what is expected of them as women.

I do not have a problem with girls exploring their sexuality, but of course this has nothing to do with their sexuality, that’s the whole point. This kind of material dictates a male-centered sexuality to women. As far as I can tell, the current trend tells us that we’re supposed to take up a spice girl-like posture of feisty independence, but only insofar as it appeals to men. Popular culture seems to be working to perpetuate a certain kind of female sexuality, which is both demanding and pandering at the same time, hyper-feminine and hyper-manipulative, but at the end of the day, accepting of sex from men on the terms on which is it offered and liking it, no, loving it, wanting more. Dirty, indeed. We’re all supposed to want to be these dirty girls making it into FHM’s top 100 sexist women.

Today, I had another Mary Whitehouse moment. This time it was in WHSmith, where they are currently stocking exclusive Playboy merchandise in the “Fashion Stationary” section. It’s beautifully produced in pink, silver and black, and there are pens, pencil cases, files, books, notepads and diaries – all of it very obviously marketed towards school age girls. How many will understand or appreciate the connotations of the bunny symbol? Surely few young girls read Playboy, and I wouldn’t recommend that they do, but if they don’t know, you can guarantee adult men will recognize it. I hate to think about the reactions in the mind of some Playboy reader when he sees a 12-year-old girl in a little T-shirt adorned with our bunny friend. I wonder what I should do about the stuff in Smiths. Should I write an angry feminist type letter? “I am DISGUSTED etc etc”. Or, shall I get some friends and protest outside the shop, bearing a banner reading “Careful now” or “Down with this sort of thing,” a la Father Ted and Dougal? Or would that just give the shop some free advertising?


That bloody Playboy bunny, he seems to go from strength to strength, evading and mocking every feminist attempt to shoot him down. Playboy has even made use of feminist rhetoric: I came upon an ex-bunny girl website, where members claim to have been on the frontline of women’s liberation. That’s right, they were feminist waitresses in bunny costumes. Now you might be excused for thinking I’m one of those feminists with no sense of humour and, on this occasion, you’d be right, I’m not laughing. Dressing a woman up in a corset, stilettos, bunny ears and cute little bobtail, and getting her to serve men drinks is unredeemably demeaning. Then, to go on and claim this farce as evidence of female empowerment is a dirty joke at feminism’s expense. Of course, this kind of rhetoric has more recently been renamed “Girl Power” and we’ve heard a lot about it over the last few years. I’m sure Britney and Christina would tell me they’re just celebrating their sexuality because they have a right to be sexual, or something. Yeah, sure, you have a right to be sexual only so long as you’re sexual in the ‘right’ way. Girl power indeed! The last thing girls are in this culture is empowered, sexually or otherwise. I find it particularly depressing to see feminism appropriated and misused to support an age-old status quo in which women are forced to use their sexuality and their bodies to manipulate and work the system, fucking their way to the top, stepping on anyone, male or female, who gets in the way. This isn’t anything new, my girl power friends, this situation is as ancient as it gets.

I think that what really bothers me about the Payboy stationary is the insiduous, nasty psychological trick underlying the Playboy/WHSmith marketing strategy. The other day, I received an email from a teacher saying she didn’t know what to do when she found some 11 year olds in her class with the stationary. This difficulty is precisely what the company is depending on. When a child demands, or buys, this stuff, how many parents or teachers will feel able to explain why they disapprove of the item? The child, in the way of all children, will demand to know why she is being denied and this puts the adult in the position of having to explain what Playboy magazine is – which of course means answering questions about soft-core pornography. If I were a parent I hope I would try and be open and explain it, but it’s not always that easy. I think it likely that most adults will look the other way in the hope that their children will not find out about what the bunny really means, (even though there’s a good chance they will), and will just hope that it’s a temporary fashion. Meanwhile, WHSmith and a soft-porn empire make a lot of money out of young girls. What if this is only the beginning? What if we’re confronted next with Playboy t-shirts for little girls, or how about underwear…even baby grows? I don’t want to get overly melodramatic, but where do we draw the line and say “this exploitation is not acceptable”?

Having thought about it, I now believe the Playboy stationary is appropriate to the current sexual culture. It makes sense to mark little girls with the bunny symbol early. After all, if they’re all expected to grow up to be frisky playmates for men, they might as well get used to it. We are all of us already marked psychologically by porno culture anyway. We are all regarded as potential sex objects. Now we live in a world in which many norms and conventions that used to be pretty much exclusively relegated to pornography – from breast implants, to all over body waxing, to thong knickers – are becoming commonplace, even expected of all women. Playboy is just more honest and upfront about it than a lot of people. As far as they’re concerned pornography is the way forward, so we should wear our bunny symbols with pleasure.

As far as I’m concerned, heterosexual, male-centered pornography doesn’t create misogyny; it’s symptomatic of an already misogynistic culture. Pornography endlessly reflects and replays the banal performance of male domination and female submission, over and over again. That’s why it’s repetitive, ritualized, empty and boring.

In my worst feminist nightmares, thousands of empty-eyed, slack mouthed young girls in little pink bunny t-shirts, gyrate and wriggle, soullessly, and without passion, to the sound of “Hit me baby one more time”.

Come on comrades, we’ve got to try and kill the bunny and everything it stands for.

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Comments»

1. Emma - July 16, 2005

The very first post on Gendergeek was about Playboy merchandise in WH Smith. I stopped dead in my tracks when I came across the floor-to-ceiling racks of merchandise so clearly aimed at children and young women!

This article answers your question about playboy products aimed at young children: “The man who started it all, Hefner, at 77, says he couldn’t be happier about the trend [for young people to wear playboy items]. “I don’t care if a baby holds up a Playboy bunny rattle.” “

2. Winter - July 16, 2005

Thanks a lot for this Emma. I hadn’t realised how long the stuff has been in the shop. Seems to me that Playboy have figured it’s working in the teenage girls, so why not move onto younger kids. I’m finding it all very disturbing.

3. Kat - October 28, 2007

Thank you so much for saying EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking. I keep feeling alone in this world because no on else seems to truly understand what I mean when I talk about things like this… It’s so rare. Thank you for keeping me sane, because I’ve been going insane with the lack of support I’ve been getting!


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